The PGA Tour has now made it a month into its return to competition, with another dramatic finish in the books last week in Connecticut. Now the scene shifts west to the Motor City, as Detroit Golf Club plays host to the Rocket Mortgage Classic for the second straight year.
From the tournament’s biggest endorser to the Tour’s biggest protein shake consumer, here’s a look at some of the burning questions ahead of this week’s stop in Michigan:
Can Rickie Fowler break out of his slump?
Fowler is one of the front men at this week’s event, given his longstanding relationship with the title sponsor. But when it comes to what transpires inside the ropes, this could prove to be a pivotal week for one of the Tour’s most popular players.
Fowler has been quiet since the Tour’s return to competition, missing the cut at both Colonial and Harbour Town. He didn’t play last week in Connecticut, which means he’s still in search of his first weekend tee time since the pandemic struck.
Fowler wasn’t lighting it up in the early part of 2020, either, as top-10s at Kapalua and Palm Springs failed to translate into similar results as the Tour’s West Coast swing continued. Often a mainstay in the top 10 of the world rankings, he has slipped to 31st in the world and he’s outside the top 50 in every major strokes-gained category this season.
The turnaround could take time, but simply making it to the weekend will be a step in the right direction. Otherwise, Fowler is facing a run of three straight missed cuts for the first time since June 2016.
Will Bryson DeChambeau extend his streak?
There’s no denying that the DeChambeau Project is a success thus far, even without a victory. The Tour’s bulked-up star has come out firing since the break, racking up three top-10 finishes to match the three he tallied before the pandemic. The last time he failed to crack the top 10 was the Phoenix Open, nearly five months ago.
Now DeChambeau makes his Rocket Mortgage debut as the pre-tournament betting favorite, a clear star in a somewhat watered-down field. After capitalizing on venues like Colonial and Harbour Town that were expected to limit his advantage off the tee, Detroit Golf Club has minimal water and plenty of sight lines that will appeal to DeChambeau’s aggressive eye.
After players carved up the course and the winner posted a 25-under total last year, tournament organizers grew the rough up an extra half-inch this week to bulk up the course’s defense. But it’s likely that those measures will serve as little more than a speed bump for a player who is turning heads with both his diet and his drives.
Can Webb Simpson regain his Heritage momentum?
When last we saw Simpson with a club in hand, he was knocking in every putt down the stretch at the RBC Heritage, steamrolling his way to a victory that broke the tournament’s scoring record. He expected to build on that result last week in Connecticut, only to withdraw as a COVID-19 precaution.
But Simpson’s family has subsequently tested negative for the virus, meaning that instead of potentially waiting out a quarantine period at home he has hit the road and will tee off as the highest-ranked player in the Detroit field. It was around this time last year that the veteran began his climb back up the rankings, and while he hasn’t played here before he has been one of the Tour’s best across a variety of layouts for months.
All signs point to another strong finish and plenty of birdies, but the toll of an emotional week worrying about a potential illness at home remains unknown. If Simpson can focus on the task at hand, he’ll likely go deep into red figures just like he did two weeks ago in Hilton Head.
Is there another Cinderella story lurking in the Motor City?
Last year’s inaugural edition offered a bounty for those that love a good underdog tale, starting with Nate Lashley going from third alternate to wire-to-wire winner. Lashley’s story received plenty of deserved attention as the week went on, but he wasn’t the only one: Doc Redman Monday-qualified into the field, then broke through with a runner-up finish that proved pivotal in his quest toward earning full-time PGA Tour status.
This week’s 156-man field isn’t quite as robust as each of the first three events since the Tour’s return from hiatus, which means there could be plenty of room for new storylines. And as Will Gordon demonstrated last week at the Travelers Championship, turning a sponsor invite into a T-3 finish and temporary Tour status, it can only take a well-timed charge to move from relative anonymity to the front page of a PGA Tour leaderboard.
For those keeping track: former Riviera winner John Merrick started this week as third alternate, still awaiting a possible spot in the field, while Kurt Kitayama snagged one of two Monday qualifier spots in the field. Kitayama has three European Tour wins over the last two years and is currently ranked 77th in the world.